You can’t hit your opponent in the head with a stick.
And you can’t hit your opponent in the head with a stick on a non-hockey play because you’re mad.
That’s why Tomas Hertl got suspended for two games for high sticking Elias Lindholm in the head during the San Jose Sharks’ 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Sunday night.
I get that Hertl was upset that Lindholm was cross-checking him in the back and the arm at the drop of the puck. That’s not a clear-cut penalty on the Calgary Flames center, but it could’ve been.
I get, as the San Jose Sharks argued to the NHL Department of Player Safety, that the force from Hertl’s high stick wasn’t very forceful. And thank goodness it wasn’t, because Lindholm might’ve been seriously injured, and Hertl would’ve missed a lot more than two games.
I get that Hertl probably didn’t mean to hit Lindholm high. But as the replay showed, this wasn’t a case where Hertl was aiming for a much lower area, and it glanced up.
I get why Hertl retaliated, I get that Lindholm was not hurt, and I believe that Hertl wasn’t aiming for the head.
But that’s what happened: You can’t hit your opponent in the head with a stick on a non-hockey play because you’re mad.
It’s that simple.
I do think a two-game suspension is a little harsh.
Considering Hertl’s track record for clean play, no fines and suspensions in his career, and Lindholm coming out of it unscathed because of the San Jose Sharks centerman’s lack of force, I think one game would’ve been a strong-enough message from the league that such retaliatory action is unacceptable.
But one or two games, this wasn’t something that the NHL could let pass.
This wasn’t a “regular” hockey play, like Lindholm cross-checking Hertl – or Mason Shaw hitting Radim Simek high, or Ryan Carpenter hitting Nico Sturm high.
Now before you raise those pitchforks – for the record, I think that Shaw should’ve been suspended for that Simek hit, while Carpenter getting a minor penalty on the Sturm hit was sufficient – let me explain.
In the course of action in a hockey game, it’s a fast game, things like Shaw and Carpenter do happen. Especially in Carpenter’s case, he was finishing his check just as Sturm went low against the wall. That was more bad timing than anything, and Carpenter was penalized.
Shaw’s case is a lot more in the gray, as he was coming in on the forecheck fast, normal hockey play, but he caught the San Jose Sharks defenseman in the head instead of the shoulder. I think he should’ve been more careful and should’ve been disciplined, and I do wonder why the league didn’t do so.
But these are both “regular” hockey plays gone wrong. And once again, Hertl with a retaliatory stick to Lindholm’s face wasn’t that. You just can’t use the stick that way.
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